The battle to save Wolverhampton Central Baths stepped up a notch as council bosses agreed to take a 6,000 signature petition into account when they set the budget for 2014/15.
At a packed meeting at Wolverhampton Civic Centre last night, leisure chief Elias Mattu said a new operating model was being looked at to try and make the baths more commercially viable.
Last year the authority announced it would be forced to close the Bath Street centre unless a private operator could be found, allowing it to break even and axe its £316,000 subsidy.
But Councillor Mattu said the council were continuing to work with other parties including Sport England, the Amateur Swimming Association and the University of Wolverhampton, in an effort to safeguard the centre’s future.
He said: “I will not leave any stone unturned in my efforts to save facilities that matters to the people of Wolverhampton. Since June we have been working with other parties to develop a business plan to try and make all our leisure facilities work on a commercial level.
Adrian Turner, secretary of Wolverhampton Unison, said: “Every service in the city has been impacted and we want the council to stand up to central government against these cuts.”
“We have been involved in the campaign to save Central Baths. The baths are a vital part of the city and it is unfair to expect people to go without this service.”
Carol Bailey, who is leading the campaign to keep the baths open, said she was encouraged by the response to the petition.
“It is clear this is a cross-party issue and everyone in the meeting tonight showed their support for our efforts to save the baths.
“I believe the council are putting a lot of work into finding a way to keep the baths open.
“The fact they have taken the petition on board, along with the business plan, gives me reasons to feel positive.
“The problem is the baths have been losing money, so it is crucial for the council to find a way to make the centre profitable.
“Bringing on board bodies such as the Amateur Swimming Association can only help our cause.”
Ms Bailey said losing the baths would put an additional financial strain on the local authority’s already stretched coffers.
“Lack of exercise can cause illness, depression and dementia, so by keeping fit people stay out of hospitals and doctor’s surgeries,” she said.
But she warned that even if the baths survive the current round of spending cuts, it may only signal a stay of execution.
“My big concern is if the council go for the plan, how long will it last?” she said.
“With other cuts on the horizon we don’t want to have to go through all this again in a few years’ time.”
Tettenhall Wightwick councillor Wendy Thompson was less impressed with the council’s pledge to try to save the baths.
“It is very sad to say but I don’t think there is any chance of the baths surviving,” she said.
“When the budget is set there will be no money for the baths, regardless of any business plan. They should be doing everything in their power to save them but instead they are flogging them off.”
Before the meeting, more than 70 members of Unison gathered outside council chambers to protest against cuts in public services.
The fate of the baths is due to be decided at meeting on March 11.